A lot has been said about acupuncture lately, but in the movie 9000 Needles, it takes on a supporting role in the compelling and emotional story of Devin Dearth. A father of three, champion body builder, and Southern Baptist from Central City, Kentucky, Dearth’s life is forever changed one day in 2009 when he suffers a stroke while pumping iron at his local gym.
The stroke left Devin with a brain injury that ravaged his body. The toll: paralysis of his right side, inability to walk, greatly diminished speech, and double vision. After spending several weeks in intensive care, Devin heads to inpatient rehab, which he tackles with as much fervor as he did the weight stacks at the gym.
Unfortunately, even though he is continuing to improve, Devin’s health insurance runs out, and he is sent home to be cared for by his family. As the weeks go by, it’s clear that Devin is losing ground both physically and emotionally without the intensive rehab. Refusing to give up, Devin’s family rallies around him, and his brother, Doug, suggests a stroke rehabilitation program in Tianjian, China.
Devin chooses to go to China, and we watch his journey and that of his family, while he undergoes three months of intensive treatments very far from home. Devin’s days consist of morning and afternoon acupuncture treatments, physical therapy, herbal medicine, and a kind of Chinese body work, called Tui Na.
As I watched 9000 Needles, I was struck by a number of things. First, my frustration with the managed health care system in the United States physically rose up in me. Why, when Devin was making such progress from rehabilitation, was he sent home to be cared for by his family, but basically forgotten by the health care system? Why does anyone in this country of ours have to go to China or any other country to get the care they need because they can’t afford to get it here? Why are we left with no choice other than to deal with a health care system that operates at a huge conflict of interest? Simply put, ours is not a health care system that is patient centered when the insurance industry dictates the scope of our care.
I was also struck by the number of different players in China that came together for the purpose of helping Devin. In many scenes, Devin’s room was crowded with doctors and other care givers who were assessing, treating, and observing Devin’s progress. Each was on board with Devin’s treatment program as they consulted with the others. We were watching integrated medicine in action.
As an acupuncturist, I was also very interested to watch the acupuncture techniques performed by the Chinese doctors. To the untrained eye, it looked like Devin had a lot of needles inserted into weird places in his face and head. To me, I could get a glimpse of what the doctors were thinking. The great number of needles in Devin’s head were most likely scalp acupuncture; a technique that’s especially good for paralysis and motor dysfunction. However, there were also a number of needles placed near Devin’s eyes, which I assume were aimed at improving his vision problems. The acupuncture was aggressive, but for a reason; Devin’s condition was serious.
Finally, I was completely taken with the care and love shown to Devin by his family, community and care providers—both in Kentucky and in China. I was also moved by the care and love that went into the making of this documentary; it brought me to tears more than once.
You won’t find 9000 Needles at your neighborhood theater, but you can and should see it. For less than you would spend for two of you to see it in a theater, you can order a copy at 9000needles.com .